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A “new” Taliban?

A new Taliban has emerged. Or so The New York Times – and the old Taliban – claims:

A new, more radical insurgent group has begun a campaign aimed at terrorizing both Afghan officials and moderate insurgents, according to Afghan officials.

While the Taliban publicly disavowed the new group, Afghan intelligence officials depicted it as a faction of the Taliban that is “behind the current campaign of psychological and terror attacks,” as one official put it.

Calling itself the Mullah Dadullah Front, after a notoriously bloodthirsty Taliban commander who was killed in 2007, people claiming to represent the group have in recent days sent text messages and made telephone calls to numerous members of the Afghan Parliament, threatening suicide attacks if they vote to ratify the strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the United States.

The group also claimed responsibility for the assassination of a former Taliban minister, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, this month.

There are two possible explanations for the debut of this new group.
The first thesis is that last week’s assassination was an act of “spoiler violence” by disaffected Taliban members who simply don’t want a settlement to move forward. Strategic concerns would be a primary motivation – i.e. the belief that the insurgents are winning and therefore don’t need to negotiate peace.
The second thesis is that this is the work of a front organization designed to provide cover for the Taliban. In this case, the strategic motivation would be a bit more complex. Taliban leaders may be seeking to control the shape of the peace process – by neutralizing the High Peace Council and, therefore, hampering Karzai’s role in negotiations. The purported existence of more radical groups could also strengthen the Taliban’s hand in talks: “Either you meet our terms, or deal with these radical youngsters who don’t give a fuck.” Finally, creating such a front organization could appease hardliners within the insurgency, giving them an outlet for action. All the while, the main body of the Taliban is provided with plausible deniability as they continue pursuing peace talks with occupation forces.
From the perspective of making peace – or at least ending this war – a fractured Taliban may present a considerable obstacle, while a unified Taliban could facilitate resolution. As a general rule, negotiated settlements to violent conflicts work best when the insurgent organizations are centralized and maintain internal solidarity, and can thus commit to peace agreements.
Quitting violence can be hard for insurgents, as radicals within the ranks often accuse the leaders of “selling out the cause.” Upstarts often have no time for restraint. They want “action, not words.” If the Taliban is splintering at this early stage in the process, then the prospect of post-resolution violence is all the more likely. And an insurgent escalation means greater instability – which only serves to strengthen the position of American militarists who indefinite commitment to war in Afghanistan.
The American tactic of “divide and conquer” approach is thus potentially counterproductive: it may only sow the seeds for more conflict. After all, Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. When American marines implemented this negotiation strategy in Anbar back in 2006, there was a “proto-state” in Baghdad. Granted it was corrupt and sectarian, but it existed nonetheless. And the Sunni insurgents knew this, which motivated them to cut a deal with the Americans. Afghanistan isn’t Iraq and Kabul isn’t Baghdad. Fracturing the insurgency won’t strengthen the Afghan government.
A fractured insurgency and an ineffective government. Sounds like a recipe for prolonging the war.
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Philippe Duhart

Philippe Duhart

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